It never ceases to amaze me just how busy London is. We’re currently driving from Lancaster Gate to Bow, via Liverpool Street, and we’ve had to allow one our and a half. That’s the same amount of time that we allowed to drive from Oxford to Birmingham. In fact, it’s a little bit more. We’re just outside Edgware Road Station and, of course, we’re at a standstill. It only takes two hours and ten minutes to travel from Wakefield Westgate to London King’s Cross on the train, and yet it quite literally feels like we’re world’s apart.
Tonight is the seventh gig out of nine on the tour. We’re playing at the Luminaire in Kilburn, but first I’m delivering a lecture at a University on what it’s like to be in a band and how I managed to sign a record deal. Talking for a full hour in a room full of students that I’ve never met and who have quite probably never heard of me before. An interesting experience to say the least!
London is such a vast and varied city that it can mean many different things to millions of people. For some, waking-up before daylight to embark on their daily commutes is tiresome and tedious. The Underground in rush hour is seldom a pleasant place to be - especially in stations such as Oxford Circus and Bank. For others, they might fly for hours and spend weeks planning, just to get a sight of the city.
Ironically, the tourists that you see on a daily basis have probably seen more sights than the indigenous pedestrians on the street. Hundreds of shops sell London-themed paraphernalia; t-shirts, hats, bears, mugs and pretty much anything that will allow for a slogan or logo that relates to the capital city of the United Kingdom. Walking through Primrose Hill and Belsize Park, you’ll see houses that cost millions of pounds. Walking down Oxford Street, you’ll see at least half-a-dozen homeless people. The level of contrast is extreme, and it soon becomes apparent that the ladder is twice as long in London.
Competition and culture are in abundance. The place is a hotbed of ambition. Many will denounce it as being shallow, superficial and selfish, but there’s a certain irresistible charm to the place for which I am desperate to move down for. I even love the tube stations and the street signs. Telling people that I want to move to London can gauge a few different reactions, the majority of which are suspicious and cynical, but as Steven Patrick Morrissey said: staying in Manchester will only limit you to Manchester, and for this reason I have a burning desire to expand my horizons and venture south.
When it comes to music, I usually subscribe to the theory that you should love the art and not the artist. After all, as Oscar Wilde says: “To conceal the artist and expose the art. That is art’s aim.” Morrissey is a prime example of this. I’ve never met him myself, although his reputation throughout the industry on a personal level leaves a lot to be desired. Still, I can’t deny that I hold him as one of my idols. So far, I’ve told you about John Cooper Clarke and Chet Baker, and now the time has come to mention another one of my main influences – the lyricist and vocalist in 1980s band The Smiths.
It was my song-writing partner MiNI dOG that encouraged me to listen to this band. The first album that he introduced me to was a compilation of B-Sides and live sessions that was released after the eponymous debut – ‘Hatful of Hollow’. They’re not the kind of band that will instantly gain new listeners with their ‘Greatest Hits’ album. Their sound is unorthodox; far from being instant and infectiously catchy, the songs are primarily defined by the peculiar nature of Morrissey’s vocals.
Johnny Marr’s jangly guitars provide an unfittingly optimistic tone to songs that mainly tell tales of torment and sorrow. The tortured lyrics master the fine art of melancholy and have an uncanny ability to provoke laughter and sadness within the same line. It was these lyrics that drew me in and slowly infected me with the bug that millions of people still have worldwide.
It’s no fluke that they’ve gone down as one of the most important bands of all-time. Morrissey as a frontman is also a huge influence on me. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t parade gladiolas or wear glasses on stage, but instead I draw inspiration from the fact that he represents the great British fondness for the underdog. At a time when Wham topped the charts, The Smiths released ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’.
When he heard that a fan was too embarrassed to go to a gig because she needed a hearing aid, he began to wear one on stage. He always went against the grain with everything that he did, and for that I will eternally salute him. Compromising comfort and artistic integrity in exchange for short-term success has been the downfall and ruin of many an artist in the music industry. The lure of over-night success can prove to be overwhelming and it’s the gritty determination to stick t your guns and persevere that makes a truly great artist.
It’s this gritty determination that I have my roots to thank for - the grim, down-to-earth view of the world that you’re given when you grow-up in a Northern town. I dare say that there are Southern towns with the same effect, but I might as well grab this opportunity to sing for the North and hail my roots! The Beatles, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp…the list goes on. Anyways. I have a gig in London to prepare for. Speak soon.